Ballyhoo Fish: Definitive Guide Explaining Everything!

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ballyhoo fishing

If you love fishing, then much of your discussions with fellow enthusiasts would be centered around the quality and suitability of the bait to be used.

If by any chance you are living in the US or the Caribbean countries and taken to Tuna fishing, then you are most likely to have come across Ballyhoo Fish.

In fact, owing to it being the favorite food of some big fish like Mahi-Mahi and Tuna, it is considered to be a perfect bait in the region.

Even if you have seen or used it as a bait, there is a lot we’re sure you mustn’t be knowing till today.

For example, did you know that their distinguishing feature, a needle-like thing protruding from their mouth, is actually their jaw? Or that they have been named Ballyhoo, which means “extravagant publicity or fuss,” because they skitter when feeling threatened.

Intrigued to know more?

Let’s dig out some more information about this surface layer species you may easily find just underneath the water.

What Is A Ballyhoo Fish?

Ballyhoo, also called halfbeak, is primarily a baitfish which is found mostly across the Florida coast and the Caribbean. So, it is used all across the world for trolling a wide variety of fish.

If you had a chance to look at it, you must have noticed a protruding needle from the mouth or a snout which is an identifying feature. Three stripes extend the full length of its cylindrical body.

It has an elongated lower jaw and dorsal and anal fins without spines. Its caudal fin is bigger than its body, and this helps it skim away from predators. The body is greenish, but the sides are silvery. Additionally, the tail is yellow or orange. That’s a lot of color for a 15-30 cm fish.

what is a ballyhoo

If you see it swim, you will be reminded of a child skipping stones in the water. It is an epipelagic species, so it swims near the upper layer of water and avoids predators by skipping its way over the surface of the water.

If you are wondering about the extent and reason for its popularity as a fish bait, then you should know that the secret lies in the ease with which it is used as cut-bait. It is also very easy to rig it, and most importantly, it does not get washed or wasted away while being pulled out.

Ballyhoo is equally popular for offshore fishing and for trolling by saltwater fishermen. It is found in abundance and distributed over a huge geographical area.

You must be surprised to know that it has made many people rich. There are companies centered around hatching, processing, and distribution.

Related guide: Everything you need to know about the Salmon fish

Ballyhoo Fish: Distribution And habitat

You must have remembered from the previous section that Ballyhoo is most commonly found along the North Atlantic shoreline (from Cape cod to Brazil and from Florida to the Bahamas).

Its spread does not end there, as it is also found in the Pacific South along the Australian Shores. So you can say it is distributed over a very wide marine area. The region of the ocean where they are spread is called the Pelagic zone, which is the uppermost layer of the Ocean.

Ballyhoo distribution varies depending upon the age of the fish. The mature fish lives close to the shores adjacent to the reefs for spawning purposes. While the youngs live in open waters.

image of a person holding ballyhoo

Another important factor to keep in mind while looking at its wide distribution is that it may be spotted at some places during a particular season and not the whole year long. Although these are not migratory fish, but you can see some seasonal movement in extreme weather.

For example, you will only find Ballyhoo in Massachusetts during the summer as winter there is harsh, and this is a warm-water fish. Its distribution is also dependent on the presence of tides and currents.

Though all oceans experience lunar tides, Ballyhoo is found in the parts with medium-range currents (which occur as “rivers” in the open sea even when tides fluctuate during the day). Such a “river” is a constant feature along the Florida coastline; hence Ballyhoo is in abundance there.

These currents have an important effect on this bait fish’s habitat as it affects not only the temperature of the water (keeping it warm) but also the salinity (making it saltwater), nutrients (low alkaline), and the weather around the area.

Reefs constitute the most important part of their habitat as they house planktons and pteropods (which provide food for the Ballyhoo). The reef relies on currents to warm up the water during winters and to bring nutrient-rich waters to nourish the algae and planktons (providers of food for the Ballyhoo).

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Ballyhoo Fish Diet And Care

Ballyhoo is a saltwater fish living in the Coastal North Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. So, its diet is made up of the small microbial plants and animals scattered around this peculiar coastline. This includes a variety of planktons, Copepods, and seagrass.

Authorities in Florida have estimated that there has been an unusual demand for this baitfish since the 80s, owing to heightening interest in recreational fishing. Ballyhoo demand was accompanied by a decline in demand for other baits.

This called for habitat protection to keep a steady supply coming. A number of hatcheries and fish farms sprung out. One such hatchery in Monroe County has been harvesting more than 20,000 Ballyhoo per year for the past 30 years.

Another measure taken to continue its supply by the authorities was encouraging the setting up of special processing plants. These plants employ flash freezing and vacuum packaging so that large numbers of fish that were previously used to spoil and rot could be preserved.

To preserve the habitat, the authorities in Florida have put in place “the net ban,” which forbids the use of nets within 2-3 miles of the Gulf coast. It was done in response to the elimination of fish grounds near Palm Beach.

Monroe County is preserving the Ballyhoo habitat by taking care of the reefs around its water. And this has increased the number of the famous halfbeaks in the area.

All of these measures have been put into place with the objective of ensuring the preservation of the Ballyhoo habitat so that it finds enough food, breeding, and hiding places to continue to survive and flourish.

Ballyhoo Fish Facts: Hemiramphus brasiliensis

If you are finding all the information listed so far to be too detailed, then just remember the coming brief facts. Hopefully, they’ll cater to the basics.

  • Ballyhoo is nicknamed halfbeak.
  • Its scientific name is Hemiramphus Brasiliensis.
  • It is a pelagic fish (i.e., it lives near the surface of the water).
  • Its identifying feature is the snout protruding out of its mouth.
  • It is found most commonly around the coast of Florida and the Bahamas.
  • It has an average length of about 35-50 cm, and its average weight has been measured as 200g.
  • An adult female of this species is larger than the males.
  • It reproduces by laying eggs. It lays eggs in small quantities more frequently so that the overall population size is maintained. It keeps reproducing all year long though major spawning happens in the spring and summer.
  • A bunch of Ballyhoo swims as a unit in a similar direction which is useful in spotting and then avoiding a predator. It also helps them in finding a mate.
  • It is a popular fish bait which is cut, and its belly is used for trolling. Many Fish like Tuna and Mahi-Mahi love to devour them.
  • Despite excessive use as bait in commercial fishing and recreational sports, its supply has never been disrupted.

How To Catch It? Ballyhoo Fishing Tips

There are two ways to catch Ballyhoo; by using a net and by using a rod. Whether you pick one method or the other, you would still need to throw in something that can attract it towards the net or the rod.

Image of fish ground bait or chum

The “chum” or ground bait is ideal for luring in the Ballyhoo as these fish swim near the water’s surface. So, releasing the chums gradually through chum bags ensures the bait floats on the water surface.

You must choose a place to anchor your boat where water flow has an undercurrent so that ground bait makes a smooth slick.

Be careful to choose your moment when the Ballyhoo comes closer to the chum slick or where you can easily throw in the net (if netting is the method you are using).

If you are using a rod, wait until the fish reaches a place where you can conveniently drop the hooked bait and attract its attention. If you want a fresh and clean catch, use the rod because the net tosses and bangs the caught fish a lot.

Bonus points!

  • Use a smaller cast net that can be thrown wide. Ballyhoo spook easily, so they cannot escape even if they try to swim away.
  • Choose the spot where currents can spread the net; otherwise, it will sink deep.
  • Use finely ground chum; otherwise, Ballyhoo will eat large chunks caught in the mesh from outside the net.

Where Are Ballyhoo Fish Located? – Ballyhoo Fish Seasons

Ballyhoo is distributed over a large part of the North Atlantic, but there is a huge concentration along the Florida coast. Additionally, the quality of the catches in the latter is of very high quality.

If you are fishing in the spring or warmer climate, you can find it around the shorelines stretching up to Brazil. In case the plan changes, and you decide to fish in the fall or in the dead of winter, then we suggest you search for Ballyhoo in South Florida.

Though you can find it in the northern part of the state, too, the existing strict fishing restrictions imposed by the authorities over there disallow the use of nets. So you may come across limitations with this option.

The size and frequency of the catch vary in different seasons because the availability and abundance of Ballyhoo differ from summer to winter. In Florida, winter is the peak fishing season for these halfbeaks. All across the fertile Florida keys, you can find them swimming in very large units.

The commercial Fishing season for Ballyhoo in Florida (with nets) begins around the first week of September. And, it continues till the next year, specifically the first week of July. There is a strict prohibition on harvesting Ballyhoo within the state of Florida all through the month of August.

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What Do Ballyhoo Fish Eat?

From the information I have shared so far, you must have realized how important Ballyhoo is as a baitfish for the fishing industry. So, to ensure their continuous availability, we have to make sure that their food supply remains abundant. For that, you must be aware of their food preferences.

Ballyhoo are basically omnivores as they feed not only on seaweeds but also on some planktons and larvae. All these different types of food have a commonality. And that entails that these are low alkaline (which gives stiffness to their bodies). Some of their favorite foods are:


These are types of underwater flowering plants abundant in the coastal waters of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. They have actually evolved over millions of years from terrestrial plants and provide essential habitat for Ballyhoo.


These organisms (some of which are plants and some animals) do not swim too well and are drifted by currents and tides.

It is very easy for Ballyhoo to eat the floating variety of planktons all around them. The particular species of plankton favored by the Ballyhoo are mostly microscopic in size, some even less than one inch.

Water Fleas:

The numerous kinds of water fleas the Ballyhoo feed on include Alonella, which is less than an inch in size, and Copepoda, which is less than a millimeter in size. They are present around coastal Florida.

How To Rig A Ballyhoo? Using Ballyhoo As Live Bait

If you want to catch a sizable number of fish using Ballyhoo bait, then you have to be adept at rigging it properly. Follow the technique coming up ahead, and hopefully, you’ll be doing fine.

How to catch ballyhoo fish

You have to start by tying a tiny copper wire knotted tightly around the end of the hook. Remember to let about 2-3 inches of wire lose at the end.

Now, you have to stab that loose wire piercing through the Ballyhoo mouth. Be careful that the wire only pierces the lower side of the mouth and not the upper one because the latter is smaller. Also, the fish would have to swim with an open mouth.

The next step is to ensure the equal length of the two halves by pulling the wire. Make two loops of the wire behind the pin around the head while holding the wire under the Ballyhoo. Wrap whatever remains of the wire before the pin around the head.

Close the jaw-breaking halfbeak cleanly in a way that the lower jaw is unscathed, and it swims like a live fish.

If there is no live ballyhoo available near you, it is fine to use the frozen ones for rigging. Pre-rigged Ballyhoo is also available in the market. So, if your budget’s not tight, that can become a viable option as well.

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What Can You Catch With Ballyhoo?

Popular fish like Tuna and Mahi-Mahi love to gorge on Ballyhoo. For this reason, you’ll find many participants in fishing tournaments wading through the waters either in search of some live ballyhoo or rigging it in various ways.

Experts will advise you to use live baits when catching Tuna, that too while trolling at a speed range of 4.5 knots to 7.5 knots. So, you may do the same when using Ballyhoo.

However, make sure that it swims correctly because no Tuna is fooled into biting it if it is just spinning like a decoy. If you are a first-timer, it’s better to practice rigging with packaged Ballyhoo.

While targeting Kingfish, it is advisable to use a brined version of Ballyhoo. Since it might take you longer to catch this one, the brined Ballyhoo does not wash out easily. Also, Kingfish are quite heavy, so a soft bait can lose the catch.

For pelagic predators like Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo Fish, Marlin, and Swordfish, people use realistic-looking artificial lures while trolling. It is ideal for a long voyage because it can swim fast and does not go wayward.

But, they still can’t resist a bite of their favorite, delectable dinner either. You can preferably convert Ballyhoo into skip baits, trolled baits, or chunk baits (either alive or dead) for such fish.

Final Verdict:

Ballyhoo is a peculiar-looking small fish with a halfbeak found in the coastal regions of the North Atlantic and South Pacific. However, it is more generously distributed along the Florida shores and the Gulf of Mexico.

It is not a gourmet fish; rather, its popularity is based on its use as a baitfish for trolling the more delectable fish varieties like Tuna and Marlin. It swims near the surface of the water in large schools so it can be caught with a net or a rod.

You can learn to rig it very easily. Its belly is used for bait. It prefers to live in warm waters with a little current and feeds on planktons and seagrass. Although it is widely used as bait, its population size is not threatened to owe to many hatcheries and fish farms.

Strict Government restrictions demand it to be harvested in only the allotted time of the year. So next time you go trolling for Tuna, make sure to take Ballyhoo in your fishing kit.

Frequently Asked Questions

#1 – Can you eat ballyhoo fish?

Ballyhoo makes a tasty meal. It has very tiny prickly bones. You need to break these a bit finer with a rolling pin after you slice Ballyhoo into filets.

To bring out maximum flavors, just sprinkle some flour and salt and fry. Being a small fish, it is free of heavy metal toxins.

#2 – What can you catch with ballyhoo?

Ballyhoo is primarily a baitfish which is ideal for catching a variety of big fish. Among these are Tuna, Marlin, Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo, and more.

If you are fishing in and around the Gulf of Mexico, your chances of catching more fish maximize if your kit has Ballyhoo.

#3 – Where do you find ballyhoo?

Ballyhoo are found in a large number all over the Atlantic Coast, stretching from Africa westwards to the US and Caribbean.

In Massachusetts, though, it can only be found in summers. You should look for it in warmer waters. It swims near the surface of the water to avoid predators.

#4 – How big do ballyhoo get?

If you are wondering how much space Ballyhoo will occupy in your fishing kit, worry no more. It usually grows 6” to 12” in length but can grow up to 35cm.

However, the longest one was a record at 55cm. Its weight does not exceed 200g. Upon reaching adulthood, females are bigger in size(21.5cm) than males (20.8cm).

#5 – How do you get to ballyhoo in Hawaii?

If you are searching for Ballyhoo in Hawaii, start your search from The Oneuli beach. It is a black sand beach famous for scuba diving. Look more carefully near the surface of the water at the shoreline.

You can find them in sufficient numbers near sandbanks and reefs. They are extensively spread around larger bays because they feed on seagrass available there.

#6 – How do you troll in ballyhoo?

To troll in Ballyhoo, you have to drop the anchor and place the bait off the rear of the boat. Soon the Ballyhoo will start circling the floating chunks.

Now all you have to do is to toss the net wide and place it well. It will fill up quickly. You can also use the spin rod with a long hook.

#7 – How do you catch ballyhoo at night?

You’ll find fishermen claim how Ballyhoo doesn’t appear until the sun has risen. If it’s bait fishing, chances are you might end up with such results. However, you can try changing the plan with the use of scoop nets.

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  • Since 2009 I've been writing on different media portals about fishing. Here on this website, it's time to share those experiences I've witnessed in my entire life so far. Let me help you get the best stuff you need while fishing.

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